Responses of plant community mycorrhization to anthropogenic influence depend on the habitat and mycorrhizal type

11 June 2019

Gerz, Maret; Bueno, Guillermo; Ozinga , Wim A.; Zobel, Martin; Moora, Mari

Anthropogenic impact represents a major pressure on ecosystems, yet little is known about how it affects symbiotic relationships, such as mycorrhizal symbiosis, which plays a crucial role in ecosystem functioning. We analyzed the effects of three human impact types – increasing urbanity, introduction of alien plant species (alienness) and modifications in plant species distribution ranges (as a proxy for naturalness) – on plant community mycorrhization and arbuscular mycorrhization (indicating the degree of forming mycorrhizal symbiosis at plant community level using the relative abundance of mycorrhizal and arbuscular mycorrhizal plants, respectively). The study was carried out in three habitat types, each dominated by a distinct mycorrhizal type – ectomycorrhizal woodlands, ericoid mycorrhizal heathlands and arbuscular mycorrhizal grasslands - at the regional scale in the Netherlands. The response of community mycorrhization and arbuscular mycorrhization to anthropogenic influence showed contrasting patterns, depending on the specific aspect of human impact. Community mycorrhization responded negatively to urbanity and positively to increasing alienness, while arbuscular mycorrhization showed the reverse trend. More natural heathlands were found to be more mycorrhizal and less arbuscular mycorrhizal. The strongest responses were detected in woodlands and heathlands, while mycorrhization in grasslands was relatively insensitive to human impact. Our study highlights the importance of considering mycorrhizal symbiosis in understanding and quantifying the effects of anthropogenic influence on plant communities, especially in woodlands and heathlands.